Last week, Georgetown University Law Center placed Ilya Shapiro on administrative leave from his positions as executive director of the Georgetown Center for the Constitution and senior lecturer pending an investigation into a tweet. President Biden had announced his intention to nominate a black woman to the Court, and Shapiro tweeted in response, commenting that the President’s announcement excluded a highly qualified minority candidate, Judge Sri Srinivasan, based on race and sex. After media criticism of the wording of his tweet, Georgetown placed Shapiro on leave pending investigation.
Hundreds of legal academics have written in defense of Shapiro’s right of free speech. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education published an open letter signed by more than 200 law professors urging the dean of the law school not to take actions that would “send a message to others in Georgetown . . . that debate about matters having to do with race and sex is no longer free; that the promises of academic freedom are empty; and that dissent from the majority views within the law school is not tolerated.”
In the New York Times, Columbia University Professor John McWhorter wrote: “[D]oes [the tweet] justify Georgetown placing Shapiro on leave, investigating him and potentially firing him? . . . I think not.” As a scholar of linguistics, Professor McWhorter explained that critics may have misconstrued Shapiro’s intentions, which “manifests the tendency to assume malevolence in those we disagree with.” Professor McWhorter also noted that Georgetown previously defended the free-speech rights of another faculty member, C. Christine Fair, who tweeted that “entitled white men” deserve “miserable deaths while feminists laugh as they take their last gasps.”
Outside of academia, others who have written in support of Ilya Shapiro include Peter Kirsanow, a former member of the National Labor Relations Board and a longtime member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and journalist Bari Weiss, the editor of Common Sense and host of the podcast Honestly.
In response to Georgetown’s decision to place him on administrative leave, Shapiro tweeted: “I’m optimistic that Georgetown’s investigation will be fair, impartial, and professional, though there’s really not much to investigate. And I’m confident that it will reach the only reasonable conclusion: my Tweet didn’t violate any university rule or policy, and indeed is protected by Georgetown policies on free expression. Accordingly, I expect to be vindicated and look forward to joining my new colleagues in short order.” The legal community will watch carefully as it awaits the results of Georgetown’s investigation.
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